Monday, June 23, 2008

Central Texas loses the 'Highway Twins'

Krusee, Ogden brought Central Texas transportation money

Changes in Legislature cut area's influence on road funding.

June 23, 2008

Ben Wear
Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2008

As recently as 2003, Central Texas held all the transportation levers at the Legislature and was in a very cozy, very lucrative relationship with the Texas Department of Transportation. No more.

In that 2003 session, the chairmen of the transportation committees in both chambers of the Legislature represented Williamson County: Mike Krusee in the House and Steve Ogden (who's from Bryan but whose district extends west to here) in the Senate.

Krusee and Ogden carried the huge transportation bill (House Bill 3588) that basically gave Gov. Rick Perry and TxDOT all they wanted to build toll roads here, there and almost everywhere.

Krusee was in effect Perry's transportation paladin in the Legislature, pushing aggressively for toll roads. Ogden, who butted heads with Krusee on that big bill in 2003 and in later sessions diverged from TxDOT on a number of issues, nonetheless had his name on HB 3588.

TxDOT, meanwhile, had pledged $700 million for construction of three Austin toll roads and $1.2 billion more for operations later, had lent $78 million to our local toll road agency for a fourth tollway, had set aside about $200 million to build a fifth and had promised $1.3 billion for another seven-road tollway plan.

Yes, the area was to have a dozen toll roads. But along the way, several billion dollars in state gasoline tax revenue was going to find its way to Greater Austin. And, like it or not, Krusee and his loyal soldiering for Perry and TxDOT had a lot to do with all that.

Krusee, as you may know, is leaving the Legislature at the end of year. Ogden moved in 2005 from transportation to the even more powerful position of Senate Finance Committee chairman.

Central Texas' only meaningful transportation mover/shaker now is state Sen. Kirk Watson, vice chairman of the Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee. He's effective, but he's a Democrat (Perry is not) and has done a fair amount of taking TxDOT to the woodshed.

So, who will replace Krusee? To answer that definitely, you'd have to know whether Democrats will pick up the five seats they need in the fall to take over the House. Or, if they don't, whether GOP Speaker Tom Craddick will retain his position and appoint the new transportation chair. Or, if he loses, who will be speaker instead. And, more to the point, which legislators will pick the right horse in the speaker's race.

Among those reportedly interested in succeeding Krusee: Linda Harper-Brown, R-Dallas, and Wayne Smith, R-Baytown (who carried the main 2007 transportation bill). Other GOP names that came up: Larry Phillips of Sherman and Carl Isett of Lubbock. And if Democrats are in charge, Joe Pickett of El Paso or perhaps Craig Eiland of Galveston.

Note that none of those folks is from Central Texas. If the area is going to get much of TxDOT's increasingly small supply of transportation bacon, Watson will have to be the one bringing it home.

Getting There appears Mondays. For questions, tips or story ideas, contact Getting There at 445-3698.

© 2008, Austin American-Statesman:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE